Methaqualone is a sedative-hypnotic medication known in the U.S. by the brand name Quaaludes and in the UK as Mandrax. Patented in the ’60s, Quaaludes hit peak medical use a decade later as a muscle relaxant and for the treatment of insomnia. Some physicians believed the medication was a proven daytime sedative and sleep-aid, though a string of overdose deaths on the party-scene brought a wave of negative attention to Quaaludes.
Quaaludes escalate the activity of GABA receptors in the brain, which lead to a drop in blood pressure, a slowing of the pulse rate and breathing that results in a deep state of relaxation.
Recreational use of “sopers”, “ludes” or “disco biscuits,” as they’re sometimes referred to on the street, spiked in the ’70s and early ’80s. Users would often mix the drug with alcohol to achieve a hypnotic-like state that eased inhibitions.
The standard adult dose of Quaaludes is 300mg. A dose of 8,000mg is lethal and as much 2,000mg can result in a coma, especially if consumed with alcohol
Generally, recreational users take the pill orally, but others like to crush the medication, mix it with marijuana and smoke it. In the case of heavy users, cooking Methaqualone powder down to liquefied form and injecting it is not uncommon. The Quaalude “high” usually kicks 20-45 minutes after ingestion and, depending on the amount taken, can last from four to eight hours.
- Quaaludes have a half-life between 20–60 hours.
Commercial & Legal Status
In the United States, commercial production of Quaaludes was banned in 1984. According to the FDA website, the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration has permanently moved the medication to it’s most severe classification – Schedule I. These are drugs the government classifies as having no accepted medical use and a high likely hood for abuse and addiction. There is, however, some discrepancy as to Quaaludes actual legal classification. Wikipedia states; “Methaqualone was initially placed in Schedule I as defined by the UN Convention of Psychotropic Substances, but was moved to Schedule II in 1979.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methaqualone)
The medication, however, comes with serious risks. Some of the dangers of Quaaludes include the following:
- Addiction: regular users develop a tolerance to the drug very quickly and have to take higher amounts to feel the similar effects
- Overdose: taking too much of the drug can also cause delirium, convulsions, damage to the central nervous system, vomiting, kidney failure and death
- Withdrawal: coming off of Quaaludes can bring painful symptoms like seizures, muscle spasms, confusion, restlessness, insomnia, loss of appetite and tremors among others
There are very few cases of overdose on Quaaludes since the medication was banned by the government, in what’s largely considered the “war on drugs” only real success. Gene Haislip, head of the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, spearheaded the campaign, pressuring countries like Germany, Austria and China that manufactured the Methaqualone powder to stop selling it to countries like Columbia.
“America in the 1950s and 1960s was having a sedative boom. So there was this wonderful market for them,” David Herzberg, a professor of history at the University of Buffalo, told BBC News. “[Quaaludes] got the reputation of relaxing people so that they could have freer sex,” which ultimately led to the drug’s reputation as a type of date-rape drug.
“Well, it took some time, but in the end, the Colombians could no longer get their drug powder. We eliminated the problem. They didn’t know what to do. We beat them,” Haislip said on the PBS show “Frontline.”
Methaqualone is no longer manufactured, but there are rogue or underground laboratories that purport to sell Quaaludes. In fact, these are generally other chemicals synthesized to produce a similar effect and are even more dangerous because it’s generally unclear what these drugs contain.
Since 2015, U.S. Customs and Border Protection report very few seizures of Quaaludes. In 2014 and 2015, CBP made two airport arrests for Quaaludes, but the amounts were so small, authorities believed the drugs were only for personal use.
More recently, Quaaludes have entered the mainstream discussion because of their prominence in Martin Scorsese’s film “The Wolf of Wall Street,” with Leonardo DiCaprio in the starring role, as well as the drug’s role in the Bill Cosby sexual assault cases.
There’s no indication that Quaaludes will make a comeback either in the medical community or for recreational use because there’s simply little to no supply of Methaqualone any more. Still, users should be cautious if presented with an old supply of the drug – some 33 years old at this point – or of anyone suggesting that what they’re selling is Quaaludes.
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